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How to get a University ESL Teaching Job in Korea

Updated on April 14, 2016

Are you interested in teaching ESL abroad and helping students learn English?

Maybe Teaching English as a second language at a Korean University is for you. There are lots of English Teaching Jobs at universities in South Korea. This site has plenty of helpful tips for how to get one of these prime TEFL jobs. Although many teachers work at unis in South Korea for years, there are always jobs that become available each year.

Working at a Korean university is an excellent job. It is quite lucrative in terms of pay, and often offers up to 5 months of vacation/year. You can use this time to travel, study Korean or do an online degree. You can even make more money working at summer or winter camps. It really is a dream job! But, it's often not that easy to get a Korean University Job. However, you're at the right site. I have lots of practical ideas for how to get your foot in the door at a South Korean University.

Who is the Prime Candidate for an ESL Teaching Job in a South Korea University?

While there are a wide array of people teaching ESL in Korean Universities, there are some preferred traits in applicants. The more of these criteria you meet, the easier time you'll have finding that prime uni job:

1. Education. A masters in TESOL or English or Education is at the top. Behind that is a Masters degree in anything. Celta and TEFL Certificates rarely count for much.

2. Age. Between 30-50 is prime. Younger than that and you're not much older than the students. Older and your employers will be worried that you'll drop dead on the job.

3. Gender. Males dominate the scene so most unis love to hire qualified females.

4. Country of Origin. The North American accent reigns supreme in South Korea.

5. Appearance. Obese, ugly, poorly-dressed and non-white skinned people need not apply. It's not entirely true, but almost. Appearance is everything in Korea.

6. Experience. At a uni is the best, teaching adults is second best. If your experience is in Korea, even better.

Applying for ESL jobs: Common Mistakes

I'm sure that at least 50% of the resumes/pics get thrown in the garbage for the following reasons:

1. The picture is totally unprofessional. Wear business attire and have a head shot done against a plain background.

2. Tripel chek you're resume+cover leter for grammer/spelling error. (Haha!)

3. If the job ad states that they want scans of your diploma, send them! Ditto with reference letters, etc. Incomplete applications just get thrown out.

4. Don't say that you "just want to make money" or "I want to travel to Asia." Instead, maybe you could say, "I'm considering teaching as a future career, and I'd like to get some experience in this field" or "I'm very interested in ________culture and language and I'd like an opportunity to live in _________ and work closely with some students."

If you do these things, you'll have beaten out most of your competition.

Why work at a Korean University?

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University Jobs in Korea with only a Bachelors Degree

Masters Degree vs. Tefl Certification for Korean University Jobs

My friend recently asked me this question:

"In terms of Uni jobs, will the Masters be better than the TEFL certification?

A TEFL certificate is almost worthless in Korea since most employers don't even seem to know what they are and/or care about them. If you don't have a Masters Degree in something, your chances of getting a uni job here are small (but not impossible).

But, if you must get one, I would never recommend an online TEFL certificate because it's the observed/observing classroom teaching that is most helpful in becoming a good teacher. I've heard amazing things about the CELTA course. I plan on doing it one of these days.

Preparing for your University Job in Korea Interview

Some helpful tips for you to ace that university interview:

1. Be prepared to answer questions that you'd think are way too personal and potentially offensive. It's a different world here. For example you'll likely hear stuff about religion/significant others/age/health.

2. Unis are looking for long-term people (usually!). If you give the impression that you're a backpacker here for only a year or two, you won't get the job.

3. Some unis require a teaching demo, even if they don't tell you ahead of time. I've heard of it being sprung upon people and they've had to come up with something on the spot. Be prepared for a 5-10 minute lesson.

4. I got a lot of questions about ethical kind of stuff. A student is caught cheating. A student wants to come over to your house. If it's not obvious, a safe answer would be, "What is the university policy...I'm prepared to follow it, whatever it is."

5. Bring all your documents. Schools will likely not hire someone who doesn't have all their stuff together and who they can't start the visa process for right away.

6. Smile a lot. Be outgoing and friendly. Koreans love this in a teacher.

7. And this should go without saying but some people are not so smart. Wear a suit! All the interviewers will be wearing one. With dress shoes. And a jacket. And a briefcase/professional looking bag for your documents. Leave the backpack and sandals and crap like that at home.

Can I get a University job my first year in Korea?

I get a lot of emails from people who are just finishing college and wanting to know how to get the coveted uni job in Korea. It's a coveted position because the good positions have better benefits by far, than anything else out there in Korea (and Asia?).

Anyway, you will probably not be able to get a university job in your first year in Korea, especially if you only have a BA. There is just too much competition from those in country, with experience, unless you have a Masters in TESOL or English or something of the sort. While some people do manage to get a uni position with a BA, it's usually in their second or third year in Korea and only because they happened to be in the right place at the right time or knew someone.

City vs. Country ESL Teaching jobs

Working out in the country has many advantages. In general, it's much easier to find a job in the country since most people want to work near Seoul or Busan. Plus, pay or vacation is often much better because they need to entice you to the countryside somehow. And, the clean air, and peace and quiet away from the concrete jungle is obviously a benefit as well. Cost of living is lower too, because you are away from the obvious temptations of Western goods and services that abound in Seoul and Busan.

Working at a low-level uni out in the country has some advantages. Expectations for teachers are much lower, from the students as well as the administration. High level uni teachers have a lot of pressure on them for results and the students there are used to the best. Also, it's much easier to get a job at a low-level uni since all the students (and a lot of foreign teachers) want jobs at the big unis. Korea is all about appearances and connections and having a high-level uni on your resume, with a recommendation from one to go along with it can be a ticket to bigger and better things.

Do you work at a Korean University?

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Some Warning Signs when looking for a uni job in South Korea

These days, some uni jobs in Korea that previously used to be good jobs are going downhill. Some things to look for (and ask questions about) and avoid:

1. Camps during summer/winter vacation. If they're paid at a reasonable rate (20 000 Won +/hour) then no problem. If not, I'd look elsewhere.

2. No housing or housing allowance. If this is the case, your salary should be at least 3 million Won. If not, you're getting ripped off. Alternatively, living in a student dormitory is a recipe for disaster.

3. Teaching kids/uni students. Some unis are going uniwon (Uni+hagwon) style. Chances are, you'll spend most of the day teaching kids and have very strange hours, like in the early morning and late at night.

4. Mandatory weekly meetings or "English cafe" or "free-talking hours" work. This will get annoying fast. A small amount goes with the job but hours of it every week will make you hate your life.

5. A massive turnover. If the uni is hiring 10+people, there is likely a reason why so many people left the previous year. Ask some questions on a place like www.eslcafe to find out why. There is perhaps a good explanation, such as the uni is just expanding their programs. Most good unis will have very low turnover and hire only a handful of people each year.

Connections to help you get that ESL Teacher Job

Many of the best jobs in Korea, like anywhere never get advertised. They are filled through friends of friends, which is why networking is so important. Most universities in Korea prefer to hire teachers who've been here for a year or two already, perhaps working at a private institute or public school. I think this gives them some reassurance that you know about Korean culture and can handle it and you won't do the famous "Midnight Run" mid-semester.

So, if you are serious about getting a university job, in your first year in Korea, you'll need to be making connections. A good way to do this is just to be social. Get out and meet the other expats in your area. The other way is to do some more formal networking through Kotesol is the professional organization for English teachers in Korea. They hold conferences and social events throughout the year. Not only will you learn some tips for being a better teacher, but you'll meet plenty of English teachers at universities. Once you know these people, and looking for a uni job, send out some emails and you'll get some responses. Some people might even offer to "vouch" for you or hand it your application personally.

What you should do if you want a University Job, but are not in Korea for interviews

It's quite hard to get a uni job from overseas since most unis want you to be there for in-person interviews. I have a few ideas for you if you're in this position:

1. Take a summer or winter camp job. They usually last about a month or two, pay around $500/week and happen during hiring season for unis. This is a good way to be in country for last-minute interviews before the new semester starts. But, make sure you find a camp that will give you a couple flexi-days off to appear at interviews.

2. Plan on being in Korea for 2 months before the semester starts (March and September). There are plenty of last-minute jobs to be had. And there are lots of cheap places to stay, such as goshiwons ($200-300/month).

3. Work at a public school. This isn't a terrible choice, if you luck out and get a good one! Try to teach high school so your experience will be most similar to university age. Alternatively, try to find work at a hagwon teaching adults. This experience will transfer over nicely to uni jobs.

4. Keep applying for uni jobs from overseas. There are a few exceptions that hire without in-person interviews.

Good luck!

The Top University Jobs in South Korea

Have your Paperwork ready

It's not just immigration that wants a Criminal Background Check

These days, immigration in South Korea has made it easier to transfer jobs. If you finish your contract, it's really very simple to transfer to another employer without a lot of additional paperwork (just a new contract and business license/ sponsorship from your new employer). Since you already had to submit a copy of your certified degree and a criminal background check, they won't require fresh ones. However, many unis in South Korea are requiring new criminal background checks and certified degree for their own records and they usually won't accept a copy from immigration. You'd be wise to apply for them in your home country if you are planning on looking for a Korean University Job because if you have them in hand, you'll be a step ahead of your competition.

Public School vs. University Job in Korea

In almost all respects, unis are better jobs than public schools in Korea. The starting salary is usually higher, and you'll have more overtime opportunities. You'll also work fewer hours and have more vacation at a uni.

The thing I like best being at a uni is that I'm totally responsible for my own classes. I have no co-teacher, which from what I've heard is a major source of frustration for public school teachers. And I have complete control over grades, which gives me a large degree of power. In public schools, your classes often have no impact on student's final grades, so it's hard to really have any respect in their eyes. It's like your classes don't really matter at all.

But, if you want to someone to hold your hand and not have that much responsibility, than a public school is definitely for you. You'll most often have a co-teacher to tell you what to do, so your life will be pretty light on the lesson prep and admin.

How long did it take you to get your first Korean Uni job?

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Basic Requirements to Get a University Job in Korea

How Old is too Old to Teach in a Korean University?

I had a question from a reader wondering if 61 years old is too old. He's tried EPIK, as well as some recruiters so far and has had, "You're too old," or no response at all. His question is whether it is worth it to apply to unis in Korea and China, and if yes, how to go about this. He wants to work for 6 months-1 year.

I'd deal with the age thing first. I've had a couple coworkers who were in their 50's or 60's. And I've met some foreigners teaching in various kinds of jobs that were that old as well. So, it certainly is possible. However, in most places, it's the younger and the more handsome/beautiful, the better teacher you must surely be. If you're willing to work in the countryside, then you would have a much better chance at getting a job. But, being the only foreigner within 50 square kilometers is not so appealing to everyone.

As for China? Well, it's a much bigger place so I'd say your chances are certainly higher of getting a job there. And I would venture a guess and say that there is probably not a lot of demand for those 4000-6000 RMB jobs. But, I don't have any information on the age thing.

And the 6 month thing. NEVER say this on your application to Korea. All places want a minimum 1 year contract.

As for how to apply? Blair is wondering if he should just send a package to every uni in Korea and China (there are lists out there somewhere). This is kind of a waste of your time I would think. For one thing, unis in Korea generally don't hire out of country applicants. Secondly, unsolicited applications don't get any attention (I've been there and done that in Korea!). Based solely on my perusing the China job boards, it seems that unis there will hire from out of country.

So my final piece of advice! Peruse the Chinese job boards at ESL Cafe and ESL Teachers Board. Follow the directions precisely for what they want in your application package. Get a professional picture taken wearing a suit and tie. Be concise with your resume. You are quite possibly dealing with people who don't know English that well. They just need the highlights of any teaching related experience you have. That's it.

If I'm in Korea already, how can I make contact with those who hire at unis?

Making contact with those in charge of hiring at that specific uni can be quite difficult. You probably won't even be able to figure out who these people are until you see a job ad posted somewhere like ESL Cafe. Your best hope is to make friends with the foreigners at that uni. Hang out in the local expat bar in town and you're sure to meet a few of them. Or, attend a local chapter meeting of Kotesol and you'll meet lots of uni teachers there.

Become friends with these people and they will probably be happy to introduce you to their bosses, or drop off a resume when it comes time. By the way, the new uni semesters start in September and March, so you have to time it right.

And of course, keep your eyes on the job ads, especially ESL Cafe.


I got that Korean University Job, now how do I keep it?

At my uni, it seems like one or two people bite the dust each contract renewal time, for various reasons. However, all these reasons can be boiled down to "professionalism," or lack thereof. Anyway, here are my top tips for being a professional and keeping your job at a uni in Korea.

1. Look the part. I have coworkers who wear jeans or cargo-shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap to class. In a land where appearance is everything, this is the fastest way to not be respected by your students, or your bosses.

2. Lay low. Don't stir up trouble and just spend your time flying under the radar. Try to have no negative contact with your bosses. The fastest way to get fired at my uni is to start accusing the other foreigners of things, so that the Koreans have to deal with stuff they'd rather not get involved with.

3. The other fastest way to get fired at my uni is to cancel classes. Yes, people do check!

4. Plan for your classes and make them interesting, helpful and fun. Student evaluations really do matter.

5. Watch what you do online on sites like Facebook with regard to saying bad things about your students, uni or coworkers. Yes, people really do check.

6. Have appropriate boundaries with your students. You are their teacher, not their friend. Never have physical contact and even avoid being alone in your private office with a student.


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